Isabella Eredita Johnson: Founder & Director of Opera Night Long Island

Food for the Soul:  A Night At the Opera!

Where there’s a venue there’s a way to make opera affordable and accessible to local communities.  “Our goal,” says founder and Director Isabella Eredita Johnson of Opera Night Long Island, “is to foster the production and appreciation of opera and chamber music by bringing together Long Island’s finest singers, chamber musicians, and costume designers.  Since its first offering six years ago at Northport’s Café Portofino, Opera Night has attracted audiences of two-hundred or more.  Although it could never replace The Metropolitan Opera in New York City, it does allow people of all ages to experience live performances of opera talent right in their backyard without the hassle and cost of traveling to Manhattan.  Fans range from celebrity moms to teenagers; in fact, Newsday featured Opera Night in a news article that included a picture of a group of teens eagerly engaged in the performance.  This publicity drew throngs of curious spectators to squeeze into the tiny cafe space prompting the local Fire Marshall to issue a code warning! What seemed to be a closed door, a new one opened! 

St. Paul’s Methodist Church of Northport opened their auditorium facility to the fledgling group. To keep expenses and maintain budget line costs venues such as churches, libraries, and schools are affordable; however, the locations are not limited to Northport.  “We’re now in Oyster Bay…at this point where’s there’s a venue with a quality piano, where there’s an audience, there’s opera!” declared Isabella.

And quality is a primary concern to the organizers of Opera Night. As an emerging not-for-profit arts organization they face many challenges; however, a lack of talent is not one of them. “And there is great talent out here,” assures Isabella, “not just in the town of Northportand Huntington, but also the south shore in Nassau Countyto a Westchester Opera group seeking a performance site.”  Opera Night not only affords both performers and audiences to listen to beautiful music, but also gives singers a chance to use the congenial setting to try out new pieces for a Festival, or practice for opera auditions in the city.  Assistant Director, Maddalena, “Maddie,” Harris, shared a local success story, Lauren Haber who “started six years ago at Portofinomay have been a little nervous, but a lot of times she couldn’t come on Friday [evenings] because of her work schedule.” With the persistence and support of her opera peers, Lauren will be traveling this summer to Siena, Italyto perform a fully staged performance of a title role Suor Angelica. “We’ve seen her make this transformation and now has the confidence to pursue her dream.” This is how The Arts can help people find themselves; in fact, Maddie learned hidden talents of her own as a result of this art experience.  People who could not make the twice-a- month shows wanted to be kept in the loop, as it were; so, through Isabella’s urging, Maddie created an opera newsletter detailing the highlights of that particular evening.  “I never really fancied myself a writer…but opera touches my heart, my soul. When we see how opera can touch the people that come to us then it elevates it; it’s just the pure aesthetic of listening, along with the drama, and the personality, [that] make it a complete package for people to come.” Isabella recalled a father/voice major who had to relinquish his love of singing to support his family as a carpet salesman.  His wife saw that his life was not complete.  Until he found Opera Night.  Now he could sing, sell his carpets, raise his family, and have the joy of singing opera!  A happy ending for both wife and family!

Mariah Stein, Summer Intern for Opera Night Long Island can add her personal testimony of how The Arts changed her life. Completing her first year at Boston Universityas public relations major, Mariah was mesmerized by the “awesome talent” she witnessed on Friday nights.  She marveled at the ability of those who could not only hit those high notes, but also do it in front of an audience!  “I like watching the opera singers sing because it’s kind of crazy to be able to do things like that.  It’s insane that they can hit those notes.  That’s what interests me about it.  Just to see people with talent like that; I wish I could do that! I can’t, but it’d be cool if I could.”  Since she doesn’t consider herself to be among those rising stars, she doeswant to contribute to the cause.  “I want to get more experience with how I can use the social media, talk to people about [Opera Night], and meet people through doing things that will [raise awareness].”  There are many young people out there who are interested in opera and don’t know about this project.  Her talent and skills will be put to use to reach out to new audiences – both young and old through Facebook, Twitter and other public relation resources.  Besides doing the mundane work of cataloging and organizing mailing and contact lists, Mariah will also be creating a fund raising event in September.  Opera lessons, travel expenses, conservatory tuitions are all costly.   The Opera Night board feels that it’s important that their cause remains to be focused on singers.  Particularly the up and coming singers who are fresh out of college and/or conservatories.  Some have a need to fly to Europeto audition for a Festival.  A fund raising event will address this need among others.  More details below…

As for the vision of Opera Night Long Island, an opera house is part of the plan, but “rather than get so consumed with the whole marketing business end, “ Isabella feels  that they are meeting their stated goal:  “We’re doing the concerts.  We’re doing the music.  We’re having fun.”  It’s a journey that will eventually coalesce to be a complete work of art with Long Island’s own Opera House.

So, how does Opera Night dispel the clichéd notion of a fat lady wearing a Viking hat waiting to sing? Perhaps, due to her Neapolitan background, Maddie challenged this stereotype:  “We have singers introduce their arias to the audience. And that makes it real to the people. And that there’s a story [to tell]. And it is that story and what artists try to communicate [that brings The Arts] to life.”  And so, to those naysayers who say that the arts are an amenity or that opera is fine for you, but not for me, Opera Night Long Island would say:  “Opera is food for the soul.  It’s sustenance.  And it gives us meaning.  Without music there would be a very drab, one-colored world.  [Opera] is color!”

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